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Sex and Gender Education

Gary and Marge have always said they’re going to talk to their children about sex. Neither of their parents had ever talked with them about sex, and now they recall how unprepared they felt about their own sexual development. Some of their learning was gained from dirty jokes and stories from friends. Much of their infor­mation centered on sexual activity. They are deter­mined to do a better job; they just don’t know when. And they keep putting it off.

One Sunday afternoon as the family is home together, four-year-old Vicki asks, “Can I be pregnant?” Later seven-year-old Amy asks when she can wear a bra. Still later Dad finds 10-year-old Brian and 12-year-old Kevin looking and giggling at the ladies’ underwear ads in the newspaper.

Marge answered Vicki with a simple no. She told Amy, “Don’t worry about a bra yet.” Gary scolded the boys for having filthy minds. Missed opportunities!

Sex and gender talk should not be a one-time con­versation. Nor should it be a “I did the talk, and now it’s over.” Sex education is an ongoing conversation between parents and children that centers on the Bible text that says, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).

A lot of parents want to teach their children about sex, but the right time never seems to occur. They may feel awkward about talking to their children about sex­ual development because they have not talked about sexual matters with each other. Often the topic of sex is associated with uncomfortable feelings.

Parents need to look for teachable moments. Vicki’s question indicates that she wants to know what being pregnant means. Amy is curious about the when and the how of her own physical development. The boys want to know what female bodies are like. Parents need to seize these opportunities to provide sexual informa­tion in a positive way.

Many parents feel that their only responsibility is to tell their children to come to them with any questions they might have about sex. When their children don’t come with questions, the parents are relieved, believ­ing the issues have worked themselves out. In truth, unless the topic of sex has been openly discussed by parents, it’s unlikely that children will come with ques­tions. They may go to friends, look in magazines, or go on the Internet.

It’s appropriate for Christian parents to emphasize that sex and gender are gifts from God. They need to stress that, as a gift, the act of sexual intercourse is meant to be enjoyed between a man and a woman in marriage. The details of this topic should never be approached as a list of bad things. God created Adam and Eve as male and female before sin entered the picture. And parents should view their intimate lives—the way they are loving and considerate, caring and concerned for one another’s well-being—as work­ing models for their children to observe.

Children are going to be curious about sex. That’s good. But they’re ready to learn at different levels. A three-year-old needs to know the basic difference between boys and girls. Picture books showing the phys­ical differences can help. This is also the time to talk about good and bad touching.

Children in the middle years (4 to 9) need to begin to know some of the basics of sexual biology and reproduction. At this age it’s appropriate to refer to body parts by their correct names. But don’t overload children of this age with too much information, and don’t introduce new topics that will make them feel uncomfortable.

During the preteen and early teen years (10 to 14), children really need a lot of information. They need to learn the physical changes related to puberty. This is also a time to talk about homosexuality and appropriate and inappropriate sexual activity. There needs to be a talk about sexual activity between husband and wife and the processes of conception and childbirth. Again, don’t overwhelm your children with too much informa­tion. At the same time, be proactive; don’t wait for them to get their sexual information from the school locker room.

Some parents worry that if they talk to their chil­dren about sex, their children will become sexually active. That really is not true. One of the challenges is to find a balance between too much information and no information.

Books on the subject of sex education, written from a Christian perspective, can be especially helpful. Look for materials that include diagrams and provide good ways to begin a conversation on a variety of sex- and gender-related topics.

This is an ongoing process that will change as chil­dren get older. Parents need to continually look for those teachable moments to review and broaden their children’s understanding of sex and gender.

12N2026_patientparentingFrom Patient Parenting, by John Juern. © 2006 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.